The YouTube power couple Rafi and Benny Fine were at the top of their game up until last June. The brothers’ childhood hobby of producing radio broadcasts and comedy led to the creation of Fine Brothers Entertainment.
FBE, which is most known for its “react” videos, was established in 2007 with a focus on online video sharing sites like YouTube. It offered 30 million subscribers viral videos from a variety of creators, and by June 2020, it was producing 300 million monthly views. Among the top media behemoths it worked with were Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Nickelodeon.
But during the past seven months, the once-dominant empire has faced perilous terrain.
Benny Fine appears in blackface in a shaky 2009 movie that Shane Dawson’s “Degrassi” parody released in June. As a result of their conduct, the brothers faced a storm of criticism from the public and the staff. At the same time, there was a national awakening over racism and police brutality brought on by demonstrations when George Floyd was shot by the police. In the two weeks that followed, several of the company’s top performers with the longest tenure left.
However, former employees of the Los Angeles-based company assert that the blackface video was just the beginning. Between June 2012 and June 2020, Insider spoke with 26 former employees and contractors about their experiences working with FBE, the majority before and some after the company’s announcements to the public. They said that instances of racism and discrimination had occurred, some of which originated from senior management, and that the behavior had damaged the workplace atmosphere.
Former coworkers described the Fine brothers as talented creators who micromanaged everything, even pitch meetings and video thumbnails, reluctant to cede ownership of what they had produced. These people claimed that the new managers they hired seemed to be “yes men.” Some claim that the dynamic exacerbated irrational preconceptions.
Rafi and Benny Fine did not respond to inquiries about their positions on the charges made in this report. According to an FBE spokeswoman, the brothers “shared their concerns at several full-time staff meetings” and “apologized for tons of items they made over their early careers.”
Former workers of color claimed they experienced or saw racism at FBE
After the blackface video was resurrected and posted to the FBE Instagram account, the Fine brothers apologized. They pledged in a statement to increase diversity at the company and make a donation to the NAACP in an effort to disassociate themselves from the video and apologize for their “terrible errors of judgment.”
Kennedy Zimet, one of almost 200 hired actors in React films who were filmed reacting to videos, foods, events, and activities, felt that the apology was insufficient. She admitted to being appalled after watching the blackface video and leaving FBE after eight and a half years, as reported by Insider.
According to Zimet, FBE seems to be carrying out all the right things on the surface, as seen by the release of videos last year that supported Black Lives Matter and the selection of people of color as reactors. She asserted that, despite requesting management’s assistance, she had to deal on her own with racist death threats and other fan harassment that she had to deal with behind the scenes.
At the end of May 2020, Zimet and a number of other Black reactors participated in a Black Lives Matter film at the company’s request to raise awareness of the social movement. She claimed that after emailing the general casting assistant about her concerns for her safety when speaking openly about her experiences as a Black woman, she received no response.
Here’s the Tweet by REACT
Former workers alleged that they were the target of racial epithets and jokes
Following the release of Kennedy Zimet’s film, other former FBE workers and reactors—mostly people of color—went on the record to share their accounts of their time spent there.
Here’s the Tweet by REACT
Mexican American Jonathan Rosario-Price, who worked as a reactor for almost six years, left FBE last summer. He claimed to Insider that he reported to management about the mistreatment he had experienced at the hands of a Caucasian, more senior responder. He asserted that the reactor made derogatory statements about Mexicans and “justified slavery by judging that unemployment was extremely low” during a gathering at his home. Employees were present despite though the celebration was not a company-sponsored function.
Rosario-Price claimed that while the man was making jokes, he felt “powerless” because nobody else at the party spoke up for him. He said over the phone that Hustvedt, the CEO, was informed of the incident and dismissed it as “bar-room banter.” According to Rosario-Price, Hustvedt also said over the phone that he couldn’t “publicly out someone as racist.”
Here’s the Youtube Video by REACT
Rosario-Price said, “You’re neglecting people of color,” based on his own experience. It’s terrible that you don’t do everything in your ability to ensure that people are secure. There isn’t another way to put it.
Hustvedt claims that although Rosario-Price departed the company before the HR investigation was finished, it had begun. He said that he had never before used the phrase “bar-room discourse.”